A panel of industry experts, perhaps through intentionally rose-colored glasses, ended up discussing some reasons for optimism at the Super 8 International Conference 2009 in Orlando. The theory that emerged was leisure travel this summer, despite the recession, could be more active compared to 2008.
Several ideas formulated this loose thesis. First Joseph McInerney, CHA, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said the stimulus package that is near completion in Washington, D.C. makes this “a very positive time for us. It will take a several weeks to get the money out there, but we think this going to help the economy.”
Fred Schwartz, president of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, agreed the measure, while not accomplishing all that it could, should stimulate confidence, which is an important component in increasing travel. And according to the panel, leisure travel is always the factor that aids the industry in recovering from a recession.
“After 9/11, what saved us was the leisure traveler,” McInerney said. “Americans feel a vacation is their right and we’ve seen that in every downturn.”
America’s “sense of vacation entitlement” became a recurring theme throughout the discussion, which built on the numbers given by Peter Yesawich, chairman and CEO of YPartnership, during his presentation earlier in the day that suggested the same amount of travelers still exist out there--it’s just a matter of enticing them with the right packages.
Bobby Bowers, SVP of operations for Smith Travel Research, seemed to pull together these strands of optimism, laying out the full scenario that could lead better numbers this summer.
“A year from now we probably will have seen the bottom,” he said. “And a year from now, we’ll be back on the way up. [In 2008] Q3 numbers went flat and Q4 fell off the table, so the comparables are going to be much easier in 2009. … Growth in [gross domestic product] is a big driver of room nights sold, and one thing I think will be different in this cycle is joblessness. There’s going to be a lot of people out of work and that’s why the stimulus package will be good. It’s as much as anything right now a cry for confidence. ... I think the consumer in general is beginning to reach a time where they are tired of saying 'I haven’t been able to travel as much.' It may be one of those things where they don’t go as far or as long, but they’ll go. I think we’ll be a in summer that won’t be that bad at all.”
And maybe the reason (literally) driving all of these factors (stimulus package, vacation entitlement, generally being fed up) together is the low gas prices. It’s easy to forget that summer ’08 was marred by extremely high gas prices, causing some to stay home instead of taking that road trip.
In order to make this thesis a reality, it is up to hoteliers to work on creative packages to entice those fed-up American travelers to take their entitled vacation, according to the panel.
“You’re more in control at the local level,” said Schwartz. “Cultivate those relationships so when business booms again you can pay those dividends. Reach out to your local community.”
“I think we’re going to be in an extended period where consumers will seek value,” Bowers said. “I don’t think that will go away in two or three years.”